Friday, June 6, 2008
Carlisle School considers growing technology needs
The Carlisle School’s inventory of computers and other electronic equipment is expanding along with the increasing role of technology in education. As the inventory grows, so does the cost of support and replacement. The school administration, with the help of the Technology Committee, has prepared a report listing technology goals for the next seven years. The report, presented by Superintendent Marie Doyle to the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) in April, has sparked discussion about funding strategies and priorities.
The Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) recommends technology guidelines and encourages schools to document their technology goals. While technology plans are not mandated, the DOE requires a plan in order for schools to be eligible for federal and state technology grants.
The state recommends a ratio of no more than five students per high-capacity computer, with an ideal ratio of one to one. The DOE currently defines a high-capacity, or “Type A” computer as one with at least 256 Meg RAM and either a Pentium 4 processor or a Macintosh G4 processor or equivalent. In schools across the state the average in 2005-06 (the most recent data available) was 3.8 students per Type A computer. Values for area towns included: Bedford - 2.4, Concord 4.0, Chelmsford - 3.7 Sudbury - 3.4 and Westford 4.0.
Computer inventory and replacement cycle
The Carlisle School’s current computer inventory according to the report includes a total of 352 machines, with 220 student computers, 116 staff computers, and 16 servers. Of the machines used by students, most are the more modern, Type A computers, according to Network Manager Carolynn Luby. With a student enrollment of about 780 the current ratio of students per modern computer is close to 3.5. In comparison, two years ago the ratio was 4.3.
The technology plan calls for replacing computers every five years. In FY09 the school will have roughly 375 computers. By FY14 the school hopes to reach a total of 500, with a yearly replacement of 100 computers. At $1,200 each, the total replacement cost will run $120,000 annually. If funding shortages interrupt the replacement cycle, the inventory will include a larger proportion of older computers.
Plan calls for student/computer ratio of 1.5 in 6 years
According to projections (see “Enrollment declines weighed in Carlisle School plans,” page 1) enrollment is predicted to drop to about 573 by the 2014-2015 school year and reach about 525 three years later. If the school is able to follow its technology plan and the enrollment estimates hold, the ratio of Carlisle students per Type A computer will fall below 1.5 by FY15.
Classroom computers: tools or “mind candy”?
At the May 21 CSC meeting Doyle reported on a recent joint meeting attended by the Strategic Planning Committee, School Council, CSA and CEF representatives, Technology Committee and teachers. The goal was to “gather input about technology from various school leaders,” she explained in an e-mail. “I thought it was important to develop a shared vision as we move forward with replacing computers and meeting the technological needs of teachers so they can maximize student learning.”
She noted some differences of opinion with School Council member Alex Krapf. After reviewing the school’s current technology plan Krapf presented the CSC with a three-page response outlining his financial as well as philosophical concerns. As the computer inventory grows, he suggests that financial planning take into account electricity and insurance costs, as well as a need for additional technical staff. Contacted by e-mail, Krapf said his research shows life expectancy for laptop computers is shorter than desktop models. He noted Boston Public Schools have a five-year desktop/four-year laptop replacement cycle.
Krapf explained he believes education goes through fad cycles. “Computers are the ultimate “mind candy.” There are quite literally “bells and whistles,” instant gratification in the form of beautiful pictures, movies, and reward games. What’s largely lost is physical reality. A kindergartner who draws with the mouse is not drawing with crayon or pencil. Whom will a child remember longer: the teacher who let them use computers … or the teacher who challenged them to discussions?”
CSC member Louis Salemy said he agreed with Krapf on his views of computer usage in school. Salemy explained, “I have a real issue with giving kids laptops in schools.” He said he thought kids are “over-stimulated as it is with computers at home.” Saying he is old-school in his views, he said he prefers students “talking in class, interacting with the teachers. I have a real issue with kids doing stuff on the computers in class.” In regard to computer literacy, he noted kids pick up use of computers quickly at home.
CSC member Wendell Sykes replied, “I think there are a few households even in Carlisle where there are not computers.” He said providing computer literacy is important. Salemy noted the difference between learning to use a computer and using it as a tool for learning.
“So do you think they should be hand-writing everything?” asked Doyle. “Yes, actually, I do,” replied Salemy. He said he is not completely against computers, and sees a use for research. But he disapproves of students using computers and calculators for math practice.
CSC member Bill Fink said he would not like to see “the extreme,” which would be computers in front of every student. He agreed about the overuse of calculators. “I have to believe the state of technology today is such that there are benefits in education for technology and we have to figure out where those points are.” Doyle said the teachers are using computers effectively. “You won’t ever replace teachers. They are the most valuable thing.”
Mobile computer labs
Many of the computers are on rolling computer labs. Although the school had classroom computers in the 1990s, it was not until 2003 that the first portable computer lab was purchased, funded by the Carlisle School Association (CSA) and the Carlisle Education Foundation (CEF). The second lab was added in 2004, along with $4,000 set aside for laptop batteries and other computer accessories. By the fall the school will have five computer Mac labs with 25 to 30 laptops on each rolling cart. Through a CEF donation the school plans to purchase an additional mobile Mac lab by July.
“Our plan is to add one cart [of 25 laptops] per year over the next six years to complete the goal of having one cart per grade level plus a specialist cart,” Doyle explained. “At the same time we must continue to replace computers on an annual basis.”
Technology Department members are: Integration Specialist Cyd McCann, Luby and part time assistant Nanette Johnson. (McCann is also the school’s webmaster, a stipend position this year but due to the budget the job will be rolled into her current position.) The team works out of an office in the school library and is involved in classroom work, teacher and staff support, network management, and equipment repairs. McCann and Luby explained that minor repairs are usually completed in 24 hours or less, while the occasional repair that is sent off-site takes longer. The Mac carts come with a three year warranty.
The school has a variety of equipment, some of which is not as visible as computers. (Below is a compilation of technology owned by the school. Information on specific quantities of most items were not available by press time.) While the depreciated equipment value is much lower, the total replacement cost is over $450,000, since replacing the school’s 352 computers would cost roughly $422,400 and replacing the five ActivBoards would cost another $30,000.
Doyle notes in the technology report there are “hidden costs” as the technology expands at the school, such as software, site licenses, network hardware, printers, toner, and paper. Carlisle’s current network can handle a total of approximately seven carts, according to Technology Committee member Ginny Lamere. Originally the technology plan called for the installation of a wireless network in 2010 at an estimated cost of $100,000. However, Lamere pointed out, the new school building project may include wireless capability.
The school owns five electronic whiteboards, called ActivBoards, and through a CEF donation the school plans to purchase three more by July. In her technology update letter, Doyle noted the boards allow “teachers to bring important information from the Internet to the classroom.... Teachers can also use this educational aid to store and share lessons with students after class.”
At the May 21 School Committee meeting CSC member Dale Ryder said that while teachers who have ActivBoards embrace them, she learned at a technology meeting that “if it comes down to a choice between a whiteboard or another cart, they [the teachers] were unanimous saying they want more computers for the kids.” Doyle said purchases of ActivBoards should go slowly and be given to teachers who are ready to use them. Seven teachers are on the waiting list for ActivBoards. The technology is new and the school has not yet developed a replacement cycle for them.The Technology Committee, in its priority list, suggested the goal of one “ActivBoard per classroom, if faculty and town decide that is a reasonable goal.” Approximately 33 additional ActivBoards would be needed to achieve this goal at a cost of $198,000.
Professional development and staffing
The technology plan includes professional development “with the emphasis around using technology to enhance education of all academic subjects. This is on-going, with several sessions per year.” The plan also points out the need for more technology staff “as the network and number of computers expand.”
The school receives funding for technology from a number of sources. Money is earmarked annually from town long-term capital funds for major purchases. Additional technology funding is included in the school budget. Small purchases for supplies such as printer toner are included under “school supplies.” Support comes from organizations such as the CEF and CSA. The school takes advantage of a federally managed program called “E-Rate” (Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support Mechanism), which gives discounts to schools that have filed a technology plan with their state. The school received math software, FASTTmath, from Scholastic through the assistance of former CSC chair David Dockterman. The software is used by second and third graders to practice math facts.
How do other school districts fund their technology? Most rely on a combination of taxpayer funds, donations and grants. Sometimes additional funding sources may be found through industry. For instance the Bedford schools receive 40% reimbursement for specific telecommunications services and for Internet service from Verizon, AT&T, Nextel, and RNK, Inc.
State grant programs are another possibility, but have requirements such as need and size of district. One such grant program offered this year is the one-year technology professional development grant, in which towns with the greatest financial need (such as Lowell, Lawrence) are required to partner with other towns such as Carlisle to share professional development focused on technology training.
The Carlisle School Technology Committee members include Heidi Zimmerman, Vanessa Gerade, Erin Rooney, Cyd McCann, Carolynn Luby, Marie Doyle, Claire Wilcox, Nathan Brown, James Ewing, Philip Gladstone, Seema Peterson, Ginny Lamere, and Don Rober. The April 2008 Technology Report is available online at www.carlisle.mec.edu. Click on “District” – “Superintendent” – “Technology Report for School Committee.” ∆
Projected Computer Inventory
April 2008 Technology Report
Starting Replacement New
Year Inventory Computers Laptops
FY08 350 100 25
FY09 375 0 25
FY10 400 75 25
FY11 425 75 25
FY12 450 75 25
FY13 475 75 25
FY14 500 100 0
FY15 500 100 0
Carlisle School Technology
Activotes - hand-held voting tool
AlphaSmarts - portable text writers
Digital video camera
Electronic dictionary - handheld device
Electronic speller - handheld device
iPods - for books on tape
Magnetic Tape - for data backup
Overhead digital projector
UPSs - uninterruptible power supply
Wireless hubs - for network access
© 2008 The